Experimental COVID-19 Vaccine Given to Great Apes in San Diego Zoo

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Several bonobos and orangutans residing at the San Deigo Zoo have received a COVID-19 vaccine which has been specialized for animals. These great apes are the first known non-human’s to receive this experimental COVID-19 vaccine. One of the orangutans that received the shot was Karen, who was the first ape in the world to have open-heart surgery in 1994.

In February 2021, Karen, five bonobos, and three other orangutans received two doses of the experimental COVID-19 vaccine. This vaccine was developed by the veterinary pharmaceutical company called Zoetis.

According to National Geographic (Nat Geo.), chief conservation and wildlife health officer at the San Diego Zoo Wildlife  Alliance, Nadine Lamberski, this experimental vaccine “isn’t the norm.”  She further stated that she has never “had access to an experimental vaccine” during the early stages. Nor has she felt the need “to want to use one.”

COVID-19Back in January, eight gorillas at the San Diego Zoo were the first great apes in the world to contract COVID-19. The gorillas are now recovering from the virus. Throughout the world, there have been mink, dogs, tigers, cats, lions and several other animals to contract COVVID-19. However, conservationists are more concerned with the great apes catching the virus.

Currently, all species of gorillas have been listed as endangered or critically-endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species list. One of the main threats listed for gorillas is “susceptibility to disease.” Gorillas live in close familial groups. Therefore infections like COVID-19 can spread rapidly among these animals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to wipe out the populations of chimpanzees, orangutans, bonobos, and gorillas. According to experts’ warnings, this will only happen if humans refuse to take the steps necessary to prevent the virus’s spread.

Zoetis began developing the experimental COVID-19 vaccine for cats and dogs roughly a year ago. They did this after the first dog tested positive for COVID-19 in Hong Kong. In October 2020, the vaccine was deemed safe for dogs and cats.

According to Lamberski, vaccinating the great apes was worth the risk. She further stated that they have not appeared to suffer from any adverse reactions. Soon they will begin testing the great apes for antibodies of the virus to determine if the vaccines were a success.

Written by Sheena Robertson


CBS News: Great apes at San Diego Zoo become first non-humans to receive COVID-19 vaccine; by Sophie Lewis

Inline Image Courtesy of Ryan Summers’ Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

Featured Image Courtesy of Tom Gill’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License

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